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Kids in College curbs weight gain, improves learning


Physical education teachers like Missy Cupp have known for decades that summertime can have a negative impact on children.

Sure, children love the freedom that comes with summer break, including the relaxed schedule with more time to romp and play.

The problem is that summer often spawns a more lackadaisical attitude.

“I see it every year in the kids I teach, especially at the first of the school year after the summer off,” said Cupp, who teaches at Muscle Shoals Middle School, and in the summer, directs the Kids in College program at Northwest-Shoals Community College.

In her 17 years with the program, “we’ve always incorporated both components academics and exercise.”

Some recent studies confirm what educators and parents already know: summertime means weight gain and learning loss in children.

A March study conducted by Johns Hopkins University titled, “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap,” showed that, on average, all students, regardless of socio-economic status, lose approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation during the summer.

The study states that students experience significant learning losses in procedural and factual knowledge during the summer in various subject areas.

But that’s not where the deficit ends.

Another study conducted in March by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that children gained more weight during the summer than during the school year, casting doubt on the general assumption that children are more physically active during summer break.

Cupp knows the statistics. She knows that the number of overweight children has more than doubled nationally the past 10 years. She knows that Alabama leads the nation in childhood obesity.

“(Kids in College) has always included academics and exercise,” Cupp said. “As a physical educator, I’ve always insisted on the combination but parents expect it, too, and they should.”

The theme of the program is different each year. This year’s program is named after the popular CSI television series.

The weeklong program is delving into how to investigate crimes through fun fact-finding activities that encourage critical thinking skills. The students learn to find (fictional) criminals by process of elimination and available clues.

“We incorporate math and reading daily but in a fun way through computer games and activities,” Cupp said. “As educators, our goal is to keep learning loss over the summer to a minimum. But programs like this provide enrichment opportunities that some kids don’t get during the regular school year.”

There are no grades and no homework.

Cupp said the exercise component includes daily stretching, flexibility and cardio-endurance activities, and “lots of games that incorporate fairness and good character traits.”

Sisters Averi and Laura Renfroe, 9 and 8 respectively, say the program is more fun than work.

“It’s way different from regular school because it’s a lot shorter and even the work we do on the investigations is fun,” said Averi, who will enter fourth grade in Muscle Shoals in August.

Laura said she likes having something to do every day.

“I’m learning a lot, but the best part is that there’s no homework and the PE class is really fun.”

The girls’ mother, Lee, is a health educator at the University of North Alabama.

She said the program fits a niche for her family and admits that the exercise component was a factor in her decision to put her children in the four-hour-a-day, weeklong program.

“I’m teaching in the month of June and this gave them something to do,” Renfroe said. “I didn’t need day care; I needed a learning experience for them and the fact that it includes daily exercise, it was perfect. They’ve had a wonderful time and will definitely go again next year.”

Such programs are encouraged by organizations like Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Summer Learning.

Michele Van Leeuwen, who created a series of workbooks for K-6th-graders for summer learning, said concern for her own children’s summer learning loss prompted her association with the center and the series of activities books.

“Summer is the perfect time to discover for yourself exactly what your child does and does not know,” she said. “What a great time to show children that education and book knowledge aren’t limited to classrooms, but play a much larger and more important role in our daily activities.”

– Associated Press

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